About Possets

Tom and Jennie are the owners of Possets Perfume.

Vanilla: Not So Vanilla

When I think of vanilla, I can’t help but picture three subjects: 1) A big tube of lotion from a certain big box store that specializes in body care products. 2) A generic candle called “Vanilla Sugar” but with an ambiguous scent more like store-bought icing that could very well be the subject of multiple re-gifts. 3) Some expensive brown liquid in a tiny bottle I like to splurge on for my culinary indulgences, i.e. pudding, oatmeal cookies, and other every-day necessities.

Vanilla is right up there with cinnamon and pumpkin pie as a scent that pretty much every industry dealing in smells has turned into a product, most of which don’t really resemble vanilla at all. Since you can find car air fresheners called “Vanilla Snow” or laundry detergent labeled “Clean Vanilla” (I’m making all of these up, by the way), a person in search of a sophisticated perfume might not be so inclined to trust something with a similar name.

Sadly, the reputation of vanilla has been affected by the seemingly endless interpretations of its essence. Vanilla is to scent as terms like “macchiato” or even “cappuccino” are to the coffee industry—that is, they’ve been used in too many ways so that it’s hard to keep straight what people mean when they say, for example, “vanilla cappuccino.” On top of that, the term “vanilla” has been used since the 1970s initially to refer to ordinary (perceived negatively as boring) sexual preferences, and eventually to refer to boring everything.

This idea that vanilla is basic is sort of correct—it’s correct in that vanilla is a base for many concoctions, both culinary and olfactory. Vanilla, like any base note in perfume, is as important as the bass line of your favorite rock tune. It’s probably not what holds your attention most of the time, but it has to be there for the thing to work. If you took vanilla out of this world, you would surely notice, which goes to show that vanilla is not so basic and forgettable after all.

Perfumes that put vanilla solo front and center? Maybe not for everyone. Personally, while I do adore the scent of a freshly opened vanilla bean, I don’t tend to lean towards gourmand fragrances. (I have too much of a sweet tooth—it just makes me want a treat.) For those that do, a perfume that highlights vanilla as its main feature is probably irresistible, as may be any perfume that uses it as part of its structure—and there are a lot of those. Just as vanilla is used in SO MANY food recipes to boost flavors and subtly speak its own richness throughout a dish, so is vanilla a powerful addition to many, many blends. You’ll find it all over the Possets catalog, most notably in their “Silver” series.

by Katrina Eresman


Back to the Roots, Part 1 Galangal Root

This year Possets will be releasing fragrance blends which feature the ingredient(s) highlighted in blogposts like this one on galangal. Those blends can be found here.

Back to the Roots Pt. 1: Galangal

Awhile ago I wrote a about an essential oil that comes from an organic matter that is not a plant. This week I’ve decided to literally get back to the root of plant-based oils. This post marks the first in a series of spotlights on essential oils that are extracted from the roots of plants.

Act 1—galangal.

I have a friend who is getting her masters in art. Sometimes she likes to describe pieces by saying that they “look good/don’t look good to most people’s eyeballs,” implying that the subjectivity of perception interferes with the ability to actually determine anything as good, bad, or something in between. Discussing anything involving a person’s individual perception is like that, including perfumes and their ingredients. Citruses are generally citrusy, woods are generally woodsy, but beyond those obvious descriptors it’s so up to the individual to connect the scent with their own library of memories and associations, to find in it something meaningful and tangible to them.

For instance, when I smell galangal root, for some odd reason it reminds me of the scent of my grandpa, which I always noted when I would hug him. He was big and burly and chewed gum whenever he wasn’t eating. He’d buy packs of Extra gum by the box from Bigg’s, sometimes in Bubblemint but usually in Peppermint. He kept the packs of gum in his breast pocket, where he also kept the two one-dollar bills he was planning to give me and my brother at our departure. The minty smell was mixed with some ambiguous scent I can only picture as strong-old-man smell, probably a mixture of male-marketed bath products and the stubborn scent of old cigar smoke.

I have seen some people describe galangal root as being candy like and extra sweet, so I suppose it makes sense, then, that it reminds me essentially of a gum brand. It’s a spicy sort of sweet, so maybe the spicy notes are what correlate with the “masculine” part of my nostalgic scent.

Galangal root is in the same family as ginger and cardamon, known as Zingiberaceae, and it blends well with these oils and other deep, spicy scents like cinnamon. Like its sibling plants, galangal root is often used in cooking, particularly in Asia cuisines like Thai and Indonesian. It’s great in curries and spicy soups, and, like ginger, is good for digestion—just one of its many health benefits touted by some herbalists.

If you’re planning to cook with galangal, you’ll find that it looks almost identical to ginger root, but with a slightly paler skin. Maybe you’ll grab one instead of the other by mistake. The good news is that they usually work well as stand-ins for one another—though they’re certainly not identical in taste. Galangal is rather citrusy in comparison to ginger, the latter of which has more heat and pungency to its spice.

Fortunately there’s no real chance of mixing up galangal and ginger when you’re using their essential oils in neatly labeled bottles. As with ginger, galangal root is uplifting and pairs well with other bright scents too, like grapefruit. It’s an affordable essential oil that does well on its own whether on the skin or in a diffuser, but also blends nicely into many different perfume oils. I recommend trying it from all angles—in the kitchen, as a solo oil, or in a blend. Grab some galangal root from the store or order a little galangal essential oil and see where it takes you. Keep it around for a side-by-side comparison with the next root of this blog series. Possets has created two blends featuring Galangal Root. Kha Perfume Oil and Khulanjan Perfume Oil feature galangal root essential oil and can be found here: Kha and Khulanjan. Enjoy!

by Katrina Eresman

A Smokey New Year

A new year calls to mind new goals, new traditions, fresh starts. Maybe you’ve given your 2019 resolutions a new-age twist and have made it your goal to clean out bad energies, to meditate more, or to set intentions. Or maybe you just want you home to smell better. Any goal akin to these could inspire you to learn about the aromatic plants praised for their ability to do things like cleanse and ground. Many of these are burned as loose incense atop a hot coal or bound together to be burnt freely.

Please Burn Respectfully

There are many traditions that involve scent and smoke released through the burning of dried plants. Most of these traditions are much older than any of us, and belong to cultures and peoples with whom most of us have no relations. With that in mind, we can acknowledge that in trying to copy these traditions or claim to know them intimately we are at risk of cultural appropriation.

But that is not to say that there’s anything disrespectful in connecting with scent personally in whatever way is meaningful for you. The key is to avoid any action that intends to take ownership over the traditions. Claiming knowledge or connection that you don’t actually have, even in something as casual as dropping a term like “smudging,” is what can be seen as disrespectful.

Burn your herbs in a way that makes the experience a tradition of your own. Find the scents, the oils, and the herbs that feel right for you. You could even make an entire ritual out of foraging for your own local cedar or sweet grass to dry and burn as an incense.

There are lots of plants that you can find at stores or in nature that will release lovely, natural smells when burnt. Here are some that have become popular ingredients in loose incense blends. Try these out as you seek to build your own scented ritual for the new year.


Lavender is applauded for its ability to promote relaxation. If part of your goals for 2019 is to let go of stress, using a lavender essential oil or burning dried lavender buds on hot charcoal could be a valuable ritual.


Lots of sources have said that mugwort—a name used for several different plant species in the genus Artemisia—can cause vivid dreaming. You’ll find mugwort in many teas marketed as dream teas. Mugwort can be bought in dried bundles, as well, and burned just as you would with sage. Such an aromatic experience could make for a good evening routine, or would be fit for any use that resonates with the individual.

Palo Santo

This delightful wood comes from trees in the same family as the aromatic resins frankincense and myrrh. But palo santo has a sweeter smell to it, with nutty, almost tropical undertones. The heavy, sweet smoke—so long as you find it agreeable—creates a nice space for any purpose, whether you’re getting set to do yoga, write, read, or host a dinner party. You’ll find palo santo sticks in most places that sell incense, but if you want more you can grab some essential oil or look for a perfume that highlights this note.

Sweet Grass

When sweet grass is burning, it gives off a sweet, vanilla-like scent. This aromatic option is one that you might even be able to forage responsibly in your own neck of the woods, especially if you live in the northwest or northeast states, near the Rocky Mountains, or in southern Canada. You can buy braided sweet grass that’s intended to burn for its sweet scent, but you’ll also find use of the essential oil in mosquito repellents and in perfumes. Sweet grass contains a chemical compound called Coumarin, which is known as the scent of fresh-cut hay, and is used in all kinds of perfumes and scented products.

Burning aromatic plants is certainly not the simplest method of enjoying smells, nor is it at all mobile. But the intentions that have to go into safely burning the dried leaves of your favorite plant are what makes this process a nice supplement to a new routine.


Katrina Eresman

The Ghosts In You

ImageThis time of year you might be out performing seasonal Ouija rituals or carving pumpkins or putting together a clever costume. Whatever you’re doing… beware… you’re being followed by ghosts everywhere you go. They are within you. They are a part of you. They are—right behind you even as you read this!

Don’t expect to see a floating white sheet. These ghosts I’m referring to are your memories, some of them hauntingly unpleasant, some of them challengingly influential, some of them sweet and welcome. Want to get in touch with a memory? You can look at photos, read old letters or journals, or experience that ethereal one of the five senses we’re all here to applaud.

Everyone has experienced just how much scent can bring us back to a certain place or time. Smelling the right thing can be like conjuring a dream in the middle of the day. There’s no doubt that smell is a stronger trigger for emotional memories than vision or touch.

Scientists have conducted numerous tests exploring how smell is related to memories and emotions. Our brains are engineered in a way that connects these things to scent more than other senses. We experience smell through the olfactory bulb which directly connects to areas in the brain that are linked to memory and emotion. Signals from sight, sound, and touch, on the other hand, do not pass through these areas. (You can read more on this study and others linking smell to memory here.)

There have been plenty of times I’ve been taken by surprise by memories—sometimes ambiguous, sometimes specific—that arise from a vaguely familiar smell. There’s an artificial berry scent in some chap-sticks out there that take me back to playing in the basement with my sister when I was five. I didn’t even realize that memory existed, couldn’t have described the basement, until I caught a whiff of that smell somewhere. There must be dozens of other ghosts of memories hiding in me, waiting to be remembered…

Maybe sometimes the memories are brought to us through smell by ghosts themselves. Or maybe what we smell is something left behind by those who are no longer with us, as a way for those who have passed to make themselves known again. After all, the dead must like their scents, too.

Paranormal themed websites across the internet share stories of scents with no apparent source. On website comments and forums you’ll find people sharing stories of floral scents at graves with no flowers to be found anywhere, stories of sulfur scented demons, stories of smelling a late relative’s cologne out of nowhere, and plenty of blog posts attempting to explain it. This article on strangerdimensions.com lists several specific cases in which people seemed to perceive the paranormal through smell. Could it be that the ghosts still wear their signature scents in the afterlife?

I think the link between scent and the abstract, ethereal realms is fascinating, so I would love to hear bout your smell-memory links, or any time you’ve sensed something paranormal through scent!

Until then—if you’re looking, I hope you find your ghost… before it finds you! 0_o

By Katrina Eresman


I just moved into a new apartment that’s a short walk from what was once one of the biggest urban reforestation projects in the country. The 1,500 acres of nature are a fortunate coincident for someone like me, who thrives and heals and finds inspiration in the woods. In case of emergency, though, it’s good to have some items that can call to mind the sort of spiritual inhale that nature can provide. One such tool for me is a whiff of oakmoss absolute.

There are some essential oils and absolutes that really force themselves onto the sniffer’s nose as a 100%, no-doubt-about-it, straight-from-earth product. Oakmoss absolute is definitely one of them. It’s dark and syrupy, like something that would seep from the bark of a 200-year-old tree. The scent is a powerful base note—an essential part of the chypre branch of perfumes. Oakmoss smells just like the dirty, earnest woods, like tree bark or decomposing leaves and branches.

Oakmoss has been relevant in the perfume world for decades, serving as a key ingredient in scents like the original Chanel No. 5. The ingredient has undergone some restrictions over the years due to allergic reactions, calling for classic scents to be reformulated, but it still holds its prominent position in the world of smells. You’ll find it in perfumes like Miss Dior or in Lush bath bombs and, of course, in Possets perfumes.

And now I must direct your attention away from the tiny vial containing the thick, molasses-colored substance and bring you into the woods, where you will see oakmoss as it is before it’s turned into absolute using solvent extraction. Its minty-green color adorns many—you guessed it—oak trees all across the Northern Hemisphere (but it is found on other trees, too). It grows in shapes resembling deer antlers clustered together to make what looks like a little oakmoss bush.

You might not think that something so dainty and light would hold the depths of silvan scent that it does. But what is perhaps even more surprising is the fact that oakmoss isn’t even moss. It’s a lichen.

Now I know this blog is supposed to be about scent, but oakmoss is a staple part of so many perfumes that it deserves a little time in the spotlight being admired for what it is. And what it is is pretty strange and fascinating, if you ask me. Since this is not a science blog and I am no expert, I’ll keep the factual proclamations to a minimum. But to give you some idea of how cool lichens are, here’s an introduction in list-form:

  • Lichens are not plants. They miss our on this categorization because lichen don’t absorb water and nutrients through roots (though they do use photosynthesis). You’re probably aware that fungi aren’t plants, and they aren’t quite animals either. Lichen are like that, and not coincidentally, because…
  • Lichen are actually a unique composite organism created from combing separate organisms, one or more fungi, and/or a cyanobacteria, and/or an alga. The symbiotic relationship between these two organisms living together creates a lichen, which then has its own unique properties. Both fungi and algae have their own kingdom separate from plants and animals.
  • The surface on which a lichen grows is just a substrate—in other words, oak trees and other trees are not being harmed by the oakmoss that makes them its home.
  • Lichen is a tough little organism with a mind of its own. It can grow on just about any surface in just about any climate, from a gravestone in the desert to a rock in the arctic tundra. They’re actually known to grow inside the grains of solid rocks. There are over 20,000 species of lichen, and when a fungi, a cyanobacteria, and an alga can interact with another microorganism in their environment, there’s a possibility of a new and more complex lichen forming.

All this is to say that oakmoss is really something, isn’t it? As far as I know, it’s one of the few all natural absolutes that doesn’t come from a plant. Instead it takes a complex organism built from other non-plants to create the strongest, woodsiest smell. Next time you’re out for a walk in the woods, see if you can spot some lichen—maybe even some oakmoss—and give it a salute for its contribution to perfumes.

By Katrina Eresman

Two Possets fragrances which feature Oakmoss are Landscape in Suffolk and Heka. Both are beautiful and available in sample size!

Tut Tut, Smells Like Rain

HiilaweKauai is one of the wettest places on the planet, and you can smell it. The rain turns into towering waterfalls—which often tumble into paradisal swimming pools—before it seeps into the earth, releasing rich smells from the wet ground in the process. The wet conditions nurture the tropical plants which in turn add their scent to the mix. It’s a jungle of vegetation I’d never seen in my mid-west home—which, frankly I was glad to leave behind for two weeks. I was feeling overwhelmed by the heat and the concrete sprawl and the to-do lists in Cincinnati, so it was a perfect time to head far, far away.

I was up early one Saturday in June, and then four delayed flights, two layovers, and five bags of mini pretzels later I landed in Kauai with my partner and travel companion. The Lihue Airport is mostly open air, save for some of the gates which are enclosed and air conditioned. We landed at night and walked out into a warm baggage claim area which opened to the passenger pickup. With the dark night around us, my nose picked up the novelty of Hawaii’s oldest island before my eyes could take it in.

When I woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning (effortlessly, thanks to the six hour time difference), I looked out the window and saw the mountains and the mist and the dark green vegetation everywhere and started laughing. I could see that the land was as distinguished as the tropical scent that matched it. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Hikes through forests or just hikes down steep, jungly, beach-access trails brought me closer to the island’s smell. When I’m in nature I like to touch and sniff, so I took my time stroking leaves and smelling bark. At one point I picked up a seed or fruit (which I have yet to identify) and carried it around with me for a few hours, sniffing every now and then. It smelled sweet, green, and unripe.

Certain hikes afforded me the opportunity to successfully pick out specific plants that were particularly odorous. One day we drove from our home base at the north shore of the island all the way around to Waimea Canyon. We took several trails for a long hiking day filled with slippery steep climbs, at which time a tree’s sturdy roots were your best friend. The challenge was rewarding and so were the views— especially a close up view at the amazing Waipoo Falls. Somewhere in there I ended up quite a few paces behind the rest of the group when I stopped in a valley of bushes dotted with tiny pink, yellow, and orange flowers in order to scratch and sniff the leaves of these plants—wild sage. Definitely a key element of the spicy, sharp scent of the trail’s atmosphere.

We spent a few days on Maui, too, and took a two-mile hike to what I imagine exactly resembles the Garden of Eden. We came out of a serene bamboo forest into a valley that showcased another massive waterfall. I stood in awe and smelled the heavenly smells, one of which was surely drifting from the white flower just yonder by the edge of the path, just next to the couple taking selfies in front of the falls. It was a white ginger lily, sweet and peppery.

I expect that there’s much more to be discovered in the aromatic corners of Kauai. I suppose I’ll just have to return soon to do more research, this time maybe with a field guide to help me identify the things that really stick out to my eyes and nose. Until then, you might find me ordering some lantana camara and white ginger lily essential oils…


By Katrina Eresman

Grunge and Elegance: Jasmine and New Orleans


800px-Chinesischer_Maler_des_12._Jahrhunderts_(I)_001It’s not just temperatures that change with the seasons. Everything changes with the seasons—people’s attitudes, their moods, clothing fads and shoe selections, plants, and along with plants the natural smells that saturate the atmosphere.

The first time I went to New Orleans it was on a friend’s Groupon whim. Hotel prices were especially low. Little did we know, it was the off-season in the Big Easy. It was August, and it was hot. You couldn’t last a full second outside without becoming sticky and drenched in sweat.

The intensity of the summer season might have added to the intensity of my first impressions. It was like everything was turned to eleven—the temperature, the sun’s rays, the spices in the foods, the noises in the streets, the smells of the hot sidewalks and hot trash and spilt liquor. I loved it.

That time around, my friends and I took the predictable, full-on tourist route. We stayed in the French Quarter, paid pocket change to ride the street car around and look at the big, expensive houses in the Garden District, then rode it north on Canal so we could visit a towering cemetery where it was so hot the above-ground tombs seemed to be melting like huge sticks of butter. In the French Quarter, we took shelter in the fleeting moments of relief when wed walk by shops luring people in off the streets by blasting their air conditioning through propped-open doors. We took ghost tours at night, where we were shuttled around the Vieux Carré beside the masses of hustling cockroaches and other curious visitors, taken by haunted houses that Nicolas Cage once owned, take past churches and shadows and vampire bars. We listened to jazz on Bourbon, we listened to jazz on Frenchman, and we drank two-for-one hurricanes and danced until 4 a.m. We sweated through every bit of it.

Since that first visit, I return to New Orleans whenever I get the chance, growing more acquainted with the city each visit. A few years later, I was back for my third or fourth visit, this time in early April. I was there to see a concert, get a tattoo, and hang around. By now I felt more at ease in the city, felt more like I knew it well enough I didn’t have to go 100% the entire time. I just strolled around, sat around to read and write, and ate plenty of good meals. One morning I was walking through Marigny to get breakfast when I got a whiff of a bush with tiny white flowers in bloom. I didn’t know that it was jasmine then, but I did know that it smelled vaguely familiar, and as lovely as I could imagine. I took a picture of the little white flowers on my phone to research later and continued on my way to my breakfast burrito.

By the time I was flying to New Orleans this past late April, I knew all about jasmine. But I wasn’t expecting to have it greet me so soon—like, the very moment I stepped out of the airport’s automatic sliding doors. I couldn’t see it anywhere, but I knew it was there somewhere because its smell was undeniably in the air.

My friends and I were staying in the Bywater neighborhood, which is a laid-back area with a few cozy bars, a country club with a swimming pool and weekend Drag Brunches, art galleries, and lots and lots of jasmine bushes. I smelled jasmine almost everywhere I went, along with an array of other flowers in their prime bloom. We spent no more than 20 minutes on Bourbon Street, and hardly any time in the French Quarter, where I would surely have found my sweaty, dirty, spicy smells that reminds me of my first trip to New Orleans. I love that smell, too—it’s lively and challenging. But this trip was about sipping gin and tonics on the front porch of our AirBnB, and the jasmine provided a better suited backdrop for that.

With so many rich smells of all kinds filling its air, it’s not the least bit surprising to find several old perfume shops in the city as well as a number of independent, up-and-coming perfume companies. Smell is something that you just can’t ignore in New Orleans, whether you’re enjoying it or not. That particular polarity between the sweet floral notes of spring in the Bywater and the grungy, funky scents that come with late nights out dancing, drinking, and eating yummy street food is akin to the polarity found in jasmine itself.

Jasmine is one of the most cherished absolutes in the perfume industry. The flower is too dainty to go through regular distillation, so the scent was traditionally extracted through enfleurage. Now the industry uses solvent extraction. Even a thousand pounds of jasmine flowers is not quite enough to create one pound of jasmine absolute, hence its high cost. But jasmine is worth the pretty penny, both for its strong staying power, and its complex scent.

No synthetic can really and truly replicate the scent of jasmine. The reason for this is its complex structure, which includes indole and skatole. These are two aromatic organic compounds that jasmine has in common with human feces. In the small doses dealt by mother nature, these add deep, sweet notes to a scent. But too much? You can guess how that might affect a perfume. Thus synthetic jasmine is often a little off, because the balance is just too ineffable to recreate.

Real jasmine absolute shoves all of that amazing, rich smell into a little vessel. It will do the experience some justice if you can’t make it to New Orleans next April. I’ll sniff it like I sniff neroli oil when I miss driving through the _____ region of California in March. Ah, to be a young and free traveler and lover of scent. It’s an element that’s added a new depth to my journeys, and new, stronger ways of evoking memory on demand.

by Katrina Eresman

Training the Nose with Herbs and Spices

spice_turkey_black_pepper_cumin_cinnamon_sweeteners_sunday-879157.jpg!dThe sense of smell provides an amazing way to take in an environment. It helps to set the scene, it creates memories, and it even provides a sense of identity through scents that we wear on our bodies. Aromatherapy can help heal, and being able to smell things like gas or rotting food can help protect us. All of that being said, it pays to be in tune with your own sense of smell, whether for the sake noticing more scents around you, for increasing your ability to taste, or for developing your perfumer’s nose.

One great tool for fine-tuning your sense of smell is probably sitting right under your nose, metaphorically speaking, for now. Literally speaking, it’s probably in the kitchen, and more specifically in your spice cabinet. This shelf is filled with flavors both for the mouth and nose to enjoy, an affordable and readily available organ of olfactory experiences. Just as a perfumer inhales the oils from their organ before adding one to a concoction, so does the chef inhale the scents of their spices to get a feel for what will enhance their recipe.

In fact, many of these same plants, herbs, and spices are regularly used in perfumes at Possets and elsewhere. Take, for instance, black pepper. It adds a little kick to a dish, and does the same for a perfume recipe. A perfumer’s organ might also contain scents like turmeric, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, vanilla, cumin, rosemary, or coriander. All of these scents can be appreciated equally for their contribution to lovely perfumes as well as for their role in delicious meals.

Now that you’re standing in front of this lively library of scents, it’s time to start sniffing. Start with something really familiar to you. That might be oregano, vanilla, or black pepper (but keep your distance so as not to sneeze!). Take a sniff and enjoy the familiar smell. Then, take a second deep inhalation and do your best to notice the smell as if you’d never smelled it before. Try to pick out some adjectives that describe what your nose is experiencing. Is it earthy? Sweet? Citrusy? Warm? Write down a few descriptors so that you can return to your notes later upon a second and third sniff.

If you’re ready for more, a trip to a local market can lead you to a wider range of fresh herbs. Herbs are an excellent tool for training the nose, particularly when starting out, because they’ll cost you much less than essential oils but can still give you a wide range of smells to experience and study. It’s also fun to look up recipes that use these herbs, and compare the way the herbs taste with how they smell.

If you want to follow a three-level practice for developing your nose, you can take a look at this one from BoisDeJasmin.com. Here the author shares some advice from her professional training on how to gradually teach your nose to pick up more scents, starting with casual daily sniffing and ending with intentional morning meditations on scents.

The more often you return to your cabinet or pantry to smell herbs, spices, teas, and oils, the more notes your nose will learn to pickup. Once you’re in the habit of smelling, you might find that you’re sniffing everything around you anywhere you go, changing and even enhancing the way you take in experiences.

by Katrina Eresman

The Scent of Rebellion, Part 2

musk-1In my last post, I gave some background on one of the perfumer’s classic tools: musk. This base note can add a mysterious depth and a strong staying power to a scent. But because this is a scent that’s strictly synthetic these days (actual musk comes from the musk gland of the endangered musk deer) the subject of musk can be a little confusing. Plenty of fragrance manufacturers are making numerous variations on musk these days, so that it’s hard to even know what “musk” really is any more.

Since honest-to-god musk comes from a gland used for secretions meant to attract mates, it’s easy to imagine what that strong, animalic scent might smell like. Perhaps the closest thing we have in the Possets atelier is our bottle of Beaver castoreum(which is not used in any of our blends. It is used for reference). This ingredient comes from the beaver castor sacs, which are located on both male and female beavers at the base of the tail near the anus. The castor sacs let off a secretion—castoreum—that is used to mark a territory. Personally, I don’t find the smell to be unbearable, necessarily—just intense. It’s reminiscent of a petting zoo which, after a little adjusting, can sort of be pleasant on its own.

When it comes to musks, the Possets atelier houses a well-rounded collection. Here’s a little on some of the synthetic musks in our library and a few Possets-specific recommendations to go with them.

White Musk

White musk is the clean linen of musks. It’s light, pure, and very easy on the nose. Its sweet note calls to mind old potpourri, combing the sort of dusty smell associated with the adjective “musky” with that of a sour white grape.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Pleiades

Green Musk

This musk is slightly sweet, but very green, as though the white musk spent a year living in the forest. It’s a leafy sort of scent, like what you might expect from smelling the dry ground in the woods. Imagine the smell of moss, earthy but fresh and spring-like.

Red Musk

Red musk isn’t trying to impress anyone. It’s not going to put on makeup or change its clothes for an evening out. It’s bold, confident, aged, and wise just as it is. Red musk is sharp yet ethereal. It’s the smell of an old man’s study, where cigars and incense have burned, and books have been opened and closed. It’s stale and pungent, like old wood.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Eve

Black Musk

This is a strong base that makes an intense statement when it stands alone. Black musk is heavy and sour, almost like food that’s gone slightly past its expiration date. This bold musk adds a distinguished base to its perfumes.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Black Tea

Vanilla Musk

This one is just what you would think—the sweet dust of white musk with a strong vanilla taffy overtone.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Dance With Me

Nubian Musk

Nubian musk is like vanilla musk with a little more mystique and edge. It’s a sexy, sweet, feminine musk scent that calls to mind a dusty street-side market with music and dancing, the beautiful celebration of life through dance and seduction.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Sweet Arabia

Musk al Saher

This ingredient feels like a perfume on its own. For some reason it reminds me of a scent that would be worn by a school teacher, the sweet smell of a biology teacher’s perfume that contrasts with the smell of formaldehyde.

Musk Supreme

Take the one singular element that all of these musks have in common and this would be it. Musk supreme is a classic, middle-ground musk scent.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: She Walks in Beauty


The last scent on the list is, like the beaver castoreum, an ingredient that’s much closer in nature to true, animal-sourced musk. Civet is a secretion from the civet cat that, again, is used to mark territory. Believe me—you’ll be able to distinguish the civet’s territory from the beaver’s because these two animalic scents are very different. While castoreum is a round, sort of familiar smell, civet is sharp, aggressive, and altogether unpleasant to this author’s nose. Still, like magic, civet blends together with other ingredients to create some of the most spectacular perfumes.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Over the Rhine, Eve, Howl

By Katrina Eresman

The Scent of Rebellion, Part 1

musk-1Musk is one old-school scent. Its history stretches back thousands of years, during which time it was used not only for its smell but also for medicinal purposes. The intense smell of musk might call to mind anything from a mother’s perfume cabinet to a walk in the woods. It’s difficult to assign any descriptive words to musk with certainty, since there are so many different kinds of musk to be smelled.

No matter the variant, there are a few characteristics that most musks seem to share: they’re earthy, intense, oddly sweet, raw and sexual. Musk has a strong staying power so it’s a perfect base note. If you’re feeling down-to-earth, sassy, elegant, old-fashioned, determined, androgynous, feminine, masculine, or anything in between, you might want a musky perfume to reflect your mood.

(Disclaimer: I know, I know. So far this article is not helping you choose your new favorite musk perfume. First we have to talk about musk’s history. Then in part two we’ll take a closer look to the variants of musk and some of Possets’ muskiest perfumes.)

Musk derives its name from the musk deer. You’ll find these slender yet sturdy, small-tusked mammals roaming the mountains of southern Asia in countries like China, Siberia, and Mongolia. Today their lives are much more peaceful than they may have been during the 19th century and before, when their musk glands were still being harvested for the pungent scent they carried.

The musky scent was obtained from the secretion in the animal’s musk gland. The musk gland forms on mature male musk deer, and is located in front of the penis. The gland resembles a scrotum and earned the deer—and this scent—its name, which ultimately comes from the Sanskrit word mushkas for testicle. In order to harvest the secretion, the musk deer would have to be caught and killed and the gland removed. Once removed, the secretion would be dried and turned into a tincture with alcohol.

When a musk deer is alive and well, it probably uses this scent to attract potential mates—which reflects one reason why we may choose it in our perfumes. In both cases, a little goes a long way. Musk that isn’t diluted is overwhelmingly powerful and perhaps even unpleasant.

Today the musk deer is endangered, and thankfully that old process of obtaining musk is illegal. Long before anyone was concerned with the well-being of the musk deer, there was still want for a synthetic version, simply because the process of obtaining natural musk was so difficult. Musk was, and still is, one of the most expensive animal products in the world.

Now the perfume industry—Possets included—uses all synthetic musks. Even all-natural companies will include a disclosure to confess that their products must contain a synthetic musk ingredient for the well-being of the animals.

Synthetic musks have contributed plenty to the perfume world. They’re used in big, classic scents like Shalimar by Guerlain and plenty of smaller, boutique perfume lines. Musk serves very well as a strong, long-lasting base note, and the pungent addition of its scent tends to round out a perfumer’s composition nicely.

The production of synthetic musk has also lead to an expansion of the musk library. If you shop for raw ingredients for mixing perfume, or read the notes on already-made perfume products, you’ll find all sorts of different musks: dark musk, white musk, Nubian musk, Egyptian musk, Woody musk… the list goes on. On the one hand, the more musks available as ingredients, the more possible combinations. On the other hand, if ever there was a truly musk-scented synthetic musk, that scent is probably lost in the sea of musk variants. This leads to some confusion, too, when a scent is described as “musky” because it could mean a number of different things.

Humans have been using musk since at least 3500 B.C. It’s been used in rituals, as incense, as perfume, even as a breath-sweetening lozenge. The history of musk’s role in society and perfume is just as interesting as the tragic and peculiar source of its natural scent. (I, myself, would like to know more about who discovered musk way back in the day—and how. But so far it seems the discovery of the musk deer’s musk gland will remain a mystery.)

Musk was imported to different corners of the world from places like China and northern India. It was adored by Elizabethans, and was mentioned by poets and playwrights throughout the years.

In 1888 the first synthetic musk was developed. This was the early stage of synthetic scents, and the second half of the 1800s also brought a synthetic formulations for vanilla and violets.

In the 20th century, musk continued to be valued as a strong, long-lasting addition to many perfumes from the biggest perfume houses. It makes sense, then, that musk has an old-fashioned association for many people.

But about mid-way through the century, the intense, sexy scent of musk made a different type of association for itself. New, inexpensive scents came out using strong synthetic musk as their star note, and were marketed towards the younger generations emphasizing a sense of rebellion and sexual liberation. Musk became something akin to the scent of rebellion in the hippie generation, its sexual properties both intuitively in line with things like rock and roll, and also blatantly enforced as means for advertising.

For instance, Jovan Musk oil, which was created by an entrepreneur in Chicago in the early ’70s, was sold with a tagline that read, “It releases the animal instinct.” Like patchouli, musk was largely associated with hippies and head shops until the 1980s when musk began to find its way back into upscale perfume as well. It was as if either the hippies had grown up and needed a perfume reminiscent of their freer days, or as if the older generation wanted it to be their turn to go a little primal with their scents, but would only do so if they were sold from elegant cosmetic counters.

Either way, musk sales saw a major increase in the early 1980s. Since then, the scent has played a consistently relevant and intriguing role in some of the most desirable perfumes out there—including many by Possets.

by Katrina Eresman